Transitions and consolidations at D.C. charter schools

Late Friday, I received a note from Aaron Cuny, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ingenuity Prep PCS, announcing that he was stepping down from his position at the school.  He wrote:

“After much deliberation, I’ve decided to transition from the role of Ingenuity Prep’s CEO.  After nearly 18 years of working in schools — including serving as the leader of this organization since we opened our doors in 2013 — I’ve come to the conclusion this transition is necessary for me to fulfill my commitments to my own family, one which will soon get a little bit bigger as my wife and I prepare for the birth of our first child later this month.”

Mr. Cuny, who I interviewed this past October, indicated that his co-founder and the school’s current chief operating officer Will Stoetzer will assume the interim CEO role.  Mr. Cuny added that he is not leaving the school entirely; after a paternity leave he will continue to serve Ingenuity Prep by assisting with special projects.

Board chair Peter Winik commented on the change:

“Having worked closely with Aaron for close to six years — since before the first students walked into Ingenuity Prep —  I have enormous affection and respect for Aaron. He cares deeply and passionately about the vision of the school: making certain that our kids receive the finest education possible. Over these past years, no one has worked harder at making that vision a reality than Aaron.  We’re proud of what the school has been able to achieve, and we all owe Aaron an enormous debt of gratitude for this.

Even as we are sad to see Aaron transition from the role of CEO, we are fortunate to be in a position to provide for stability and strong continued leadership in this transition.  As a former teacher with a masters in special education and as a co-founder of the school, Will Stoetzer has worked side-by-side with Aaron from the very beginning — crafting the vision for the school; engaging external partners, staff, families, and students; and executing with a high level of excellence his work as Chief Operating Officer.”

As I wrote following my conversation with Mr. Cuny, Ingenuity Prep has achieved much, especially in the area of academics.  The school would like to replicate but being ranked as Tier 2 on DC Public Charter’s School Board’s Performance Management Framework, it does not meet the criteria for expansion.  Over the last three years the charter’s PMF score has been gradually declining.

Then on Saturday at the annual EdFest event at the DC Armory, I ran into Patricia Brantley, the CEO of Friendship PCS.  She was only too excited to tell me that her school has filed an amendment with the charter board to takeover Ideal Academy PCS.  My sense of Ideal is that it has been a chronically low academically performing school for much of its existence since it was approved to open in 1999 under the old Board of Education.  The PCSB began revocation proceedings in 2011 against the school, which was allowed to stay open after it agreed to eliminate its high school.  In 2018, the pre-Kindergarten to eighth grade facility teaching approximately 279 students in Ward 4 ranked as a Tier 3, where it has generally scored over the last three years.  In all certainly the PCSB would have moved shortly to close this charter.

The conversion of this school to fall under the Friendship umbrella means that this will be the second charter consolidation to be considered at the charter board’s December meeting.  The other is the KIPP DC management of Somerset Prep PCS.

 

 

 

 

 

Teachers’ union strike at Chicago charter schools not good sign for D.C. movement

On Tuesday more than 500 teachers and other employees walked off the job at 15 Acero Public Charter Schools. According to the Washington Post’s Laura Meckler, the instructors, represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, and charter school management are fighting over issues that “include pay; class size, now set at 32 students; and the length of the school day and school year.” This is the first strike in the history of the charter school movement in the United States.

The Post reporter states that the Chicago union has organized about 25 percent of individuals employed in charter schools in that city, and that the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools relates that across the country about 11 percent of charters have unions. The article also points out that across the nation approximately three million pupils attend charter schools, which number around 7,000.

Last week at the Celebrating Best Practices in Public Charter School Education event, Scott Pearson, the DC Public Charter School Board executive director, had this to say about the condition of our local movement:

“In DC, the per-pupil spend is closer to $20,000. And I know it doesn’t feel like enough – because it isn’t. Tuition at Sidwell Friends is over $40,000 – and they fundraise on top of it. But, acknowledging it should be more, it’s at a level that an Indiana educator would imagine would solve all of her problems. And yet it doesn’t seem to. Our teacher turnover in DC is higher than in most places. Sometimes it feels that we are on this treadmill of churning through teachers, where we end up having to spend a fortune on recruiting and coaching and long-term subs. What are the hidden savings in retaining our teachers, whether through higher pay or reduced workload? For example, would you need instructional coaches if most of your teachers stayed with you for seven years? How many teachers would stay if they could job share and work half time for a bit more than half pay? I’m just throwing out ideas – you are the experts, the ones closest to the issue. But I’d remind you that you have unique freedoms. You are public charter schools. You aren’t unionized. You have exclusive control over your budgets and your personnel policies. And you have uniquely high per-pupil funding. I encourage you to use those freedoms to find a way to make teaching work more sustainable. Perhaps what’s holding you back is PCSB and our high standards of accountability. What I’d say is, if you want to try something bold, talk with us. Your idea may be the one that solves the issue. I would hate to know that our high bar kept you from innovating.”

His speech, however, contains one inaccuracy. We are unionized, at least on one campus. In addition, he should know this to be the case since almost exactly two years ago he suggested that a teachers’ union could be a good thing for our schools. But events have not transpired in a positive way at Chavez Prep PCS, the unionized charter in our town, with teachers and other staff protesting on the streets and educators bringing charges to the National Labor Relations Board. The staff has also complained to the Washington City Paper about the hiring of the TenSquare Consulting Group to improve academic achievement at Chavez, including this comment by Christian Herr, one of the teachers who led bringing the American Federation of Teachers to the school:

“It’s not like we needed to spend $140,000 a month to have someone tell us to do more test prep,” he says. “It was really hard for us when our school board decided some things needed to be restructured, but didn’t even come to us, didn’t even ask what we the teachers thought. They have these buildings full of people who live in these neighborhoods and have worked in these schools for a long time, all this expertise, yet you make the choice to bring in someone who knows nothing about it and pay them massive amounts of money.”

Despite Mr. Herr’s criticism, the Performance Management Framework results for Chavez soared in 2018.

We need to keep a close eye on union activity in Washington, D.C.’s charter schools.

With pick of Lewis Ferebee to become next Chancellor of D.C. schools, public education reform comes roaring back to the nation’s capital

Here is the key paragraph to Perry Stein’s Washington Post article about the selection by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Lewis Ferebee to become the next DCPS Chancellor:

“Ferebee received leadership training at the Broad Academy, an initiative to support urban school superintendents funded by philanthropist and charter school backer Eli Broad. [Kaya] Henderson, [Antwan] Wilson, D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang and Paul Kihn, the deputy mayor for education whom Bowser tapped this year, also received training at the Broad Academy.”

The choice of Mr. Ferebee sends a tremendously significant signal that public school reform in D.C. should not only continue but accelerate in its pace.  It is a fascinating move coming from a Mayor whose top priorities in office have focused on affordable housing and reducing homelessness.

The nominee has been Superintendent of Indianapolis schools since 2013 where, among other things, he turned management of low-performing traditional schools over to charters.  Sound familiar?  It’s something I have been calling for since beginning to write an education blog in 2009.  There are more interesting details about his past work from Ms. Stein’s piece:

“In Indianapolis, Ferebee oversaw a cash-strapped system and closed some schools. He said that there is little social mobility in Indianapolis and that the departure of manufacturing jobs forced him to rethink how high schools train students for the workforce.

He dismantled the neighborhood high school system, replacing it with vocational and college preparatory academies that students could choose to attend no matter where their families lived.”

In other words, this is a much different decision than putting forth Amanda Alexander for Chancellor, someone who has been with DCPS for over 20 years, and who was believed to be the other finalist for the position.  Ms. Alexander hinted that she would tinker around the edges of the current regular school sector, commenting that if she got the job she would would send more central office personnel into schools to support academic achievement.

However, we have to sincerely thank Ms. Alexander for the work she has done since last February to provide stability in a system rocked by controversy around discretionary school placement by the former Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education, graduating high school students that failed to meet requirements for a diploma, and residency fraud.

Interestingly, Mr. Ferebee turned down the opportunity to become superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District last April.  I’m wondering what the difference was between Los Angeles and Washington that led him to pick coming here?  I’m hoping it is the general positive climate toward school choice and charter schools in particular in this town.  But perhaps I’m being too optimistic.

Here’s one other public education update.  On November 9th the office of the Deputy Mayor for Education released the final report of the D.C. Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force.  You don’t need to read it.  I’ve taken a brief look at the document and it fails to cover the most pressing issues facing the local charter movement such as the acquisition of facilities and solving the funding inequity problem.  Now we can place this document on the shelf and move on.  It is time for a new day.

 

 

 

D.C. charter board honors top performing schools

Last Thursday I had the honor of attending the DC Public Charter School Board’s Celebrating Best Practices in Public Charter School Education event.  The venue was a perfect setting for the occasion.  It was held at the stately Willard InterContinental Hotel, whose opulence all decked out for the Christmas season seemed a perfect match to the quality of the work being performed in the classrooms of the institutions recognized on this day.  No detail was left for chance.  Upon arrival each individual representing a charter received a personalized program inscribed with a quotation from one of its students highlighting his or her excitement over attending that particular school.  Once the attendees grabbed their breakfast and were seated, a highly professionally produced video was presented that interviewed children attending Tier 1 charters whose adorable comments echoed those found on the cards containing the morning’s agenda.

Thanks to the board’s efforts it really did feel like a special gathering.  This was reinforced by the stature of those in attendance, who included Chairman of the D.C. Council Phil Mendelson, At-large D.C. Councilmember Robert White, Jr., Ward 6 D.C. Coucilmember Charles Allen, and the new Acting D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn.

Next up was Scott Pearson, the PCSB’s executive director, who welcomed the guests.  He congratulated all of the award winners, recognizing all of the challenges they face in practicing their profession.  But then something fascinating happened.  Mr. Pearson became philosophical and provided some comments that I never would have imagined being spoken by this man.  He talked about issues he referred to as impacting the sustainability of an educator’s career:

“The second concerns the growing demands we place on you and your staffs.  Just in the past year the city council has regulated or is about to regulate your discipline policies, how you work with non-English-speaking families, and how you hire your staff.  We now have two evaluation systems, the PMF and the OSSE five-star rating, which nearly doubles the data validation work you must do.  The work we require of you for procurement contracts is greater than ever.   Sometimes I feel like I am slowly witnessing the slow, steady, reconstruction of the traditional public system we were supposed to be the alternative to.  The fact that I’m part of this process is not only ironic to me – given that I used to be a charter school board chair – it’s deeply painful.  And yet there is a logic and a rationale behind each turn of the ratchet.  We’re all good people, trying to do what’s best.  We play our roles.  The council’s is to legislate.  PCSB’s is to oversee.  Yours is to educate.  But it’s also to fight.  To fight for your flexibility, to fight for what makes your schools special.  Acting alone neither PCSB nor OSSE or the Council can anticipate how our well-meaning actions will affect you.  Only you can tell us – and the way things are, you sometimes need to shout it at us.  You have to constantly remind us that your freedom to innovate, your exclusive controls, and your ability to be able to focus you energies on student achievement and well-being as opposed to compliance is not just a nice feature – it’s the essential, the core, the heart and soul of what allows you to succeed.   Only when you are in our faces reminding us of this essential fact do we have a chance to get it right.”

It was as if the PCSB executive director was reading directly from my blog.

Next was the announcement of the 11 best practice honorees.  These were nominated by the schools and picked by a selection committee.  They included:

Community Influence Award:  Joyful Food Markets,
Data Excellence Award:  Jodi Ihaza, Briya PCS,
Program Innovation Award:  Stephanie Remick, Washington Leadership Academy PCS,
Program Innovation Award:  Zeleta Green, E.L Haynes PCS,
TIERific Teacher Award:  Francis Richards, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS,
TIERific Teacher Award:  Alexis Rosario, Cedar Tree Academy PCS,
TIERific Principal Award:  Rachel Tommelleo, Center City PCS,
TIERific Parent Award:  Nicole Fitzgerald, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS,
TIERific Student Award:  Kalkidan Haile, E.L. Haynes PCS,
Excellence in English Language Learner Programming Award:  Alicia Passante, Center City PCS, and
Excellence in Special Education Programming Award:  Wanda Gregory, Capital City PCS

Additional details about those recognized can be found here.

Each of the 53 Tier 1 school was then called to the podium to receive their award recognizing their attainment of the top ranking on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, while a brief narrative was read giving an overview of the mission of the charter.  Afterwords pictures of each school team were taken with Mr. Pearson, Ms. Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, the PCSB Deputy Director, and invited special guests.

In all it was an exceptionally positive ceremony.

KIPP DC PCS to takeover Somerset Prep PCS

Multiple individuals involved in the transition have confirmed to me that Somerset Prep PCS has agreed to be taken over by KIPP DC, and that KIPP will be asking the DC Public Charter School Board to approve the change in the charter management organization overseeing Somerset at its December 2018 meeting.

Somerset is a sixth-through-twelfth grade charter that opened in the 2013-to-2014 school year. It currently serves approximately 424 students of whom 71 percent are classified as at-risk and 60 percent are economically disadvantaged. Last December, the PCSB conducted its five-year review of Somerset and determined that it was not meeting its academic goals. It permitted the school to continue operating under a list of academic conditions. The high school has consistently scored as a low-to-average Tier 2 institution on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, while the middle school has been ranked as Tier 3 for two out of three years.

The charter has a special place in D.C.’s charter school movement. Major support for this school opening here came from Joe Bruno, the president of Building Hope, who served as the school’s first board chair. It receives services from Academica, a charter school support organization, as the Somerset national charter management organization does in many localities in which it operates. Somerset and Academica operate many schools in Florida where Building Hope also has an office. I remember Martha Cutts, the former long-term head of school at Washington Latin PCS, informing me that Mr. Bruno asked her to consult with the principal of Somerset Prep in order to improve the operation of the school.

Due to Somerset’s low academic performance, especially around its middle school, its board of directors initiated a search for a new partner. The process included parent and teacher board members and included school tours, data reviews, and site visits. The decision by Somerset’s board to join KIPP DC was unanimous. The KIPP DC board has also approved the expansion of their network to include Somerset PCS.

KIPP DC now has 16 campuses in Washington, D.C., instructing almost 6,300 students and has 1,800 alumni. Eight of its schools are ranked on the PMF as Tier 1. The Promise Academy campus was recognized this year by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School for its high performance and for closing the academic achievement gap.

KIPP DC’s goal is to begin operating Somerset PCS during the Summer of 2019. It would also like to expand its offerings at the new location to start in the fourth grade. The current principal of Somerset, Lauren Catalano, will continue to have a leadership position at the new school.

Susan Schaeffler, the founder and chief executive officer of KIPP DC commented about the expansion of her CMO, “I am excited to be exploring a partnership with Somerset. A partnership between KIPP DC and Somerset would provide continuity to families and ensure they have education supports that will prepare them for college and rewarding careers. We’re eager to listen to students, families and the community in the coming months about what the school could look like in the near future.”

Look for the PCSB to quickly and easily decide to proceed with this change.

City Arts and Prep PCS forcibly rejects attempt by D.C. charter board to close its school

Last Tuesday evening the DC Public Charter School Board held a public hearing to consider revoking the charter of City Arts and Prep PCS. The action was initiated as part of the board’s fifteen-year review of the school. I have witnessed numerous meetings over the years in which a school is facing closure, but I have never seen a stronger refutation of PCSB’s staff report precipitating this action than that provided by the representatives of City Arts.

This was an emotional session for me. I was a founding board member of City Arts and Prep, which when it was created was called the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts. I also served as its board chair for about five years. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I was one of a small group of individuals who was involved in writing the original charter. Julie Doar was the initial board chair and first executive director. The school was named after her father who had passed years before I met her. We often met in Julie’s apartment in the evening or on weekends to work on the application and she would cook for us. Joe Smith, now the CEO/CFO of Eagle Academy PCS, was our charter school consultant, and Stephen Marcus, whose law firm is defending City Arts, was our lawyer. The room where the hearing was held was where my wife Michele and I spent considerable time watching student performances or sitting with guests enjoying the faculty talent show. I also helped secure the facility that houses this charter.

But I digress. If you want to go up against the PCSB in an exceptionally high pressure situation then there are no better people to bring with you than Brandon Daniels, the school’s current board chair; Sherry Ingram, an attorney with The Marcus Firm; and Lanette Dailey-Reese, the school’s executive director. Speaking in the order listed above, you could not help but appreciate the dedication, passion, and energy these individuals bring to this charter. Their knowledge about the school was unparalleled.

Here is the bottom line of the current situation. City Arts and Prep has demonstrated uneven academic performance throughout its existence, at one point hiring The TenSquare Consulting Group to perform a turnaround. The most recent charter agreement with the school, coming at the end of its ten-year review, required it to score at least an average of 50 percent on the Performance Management Framework over the last five years. The charter board states that the school never exceeded this mark in any single year and has an average score of 46.6 percent across this period.

I will focus on the testimony of Ms. Ingram. She spoke as if she was defending a wrongly accused plaintiff and she was the only one on the planet who could get back this man’s freedom. Please don’t take my word for it, you can watch the proceedings here. Her main line of argument, more fully developed here, was the same one used to defend Excel Academy PCS when it was facing closure by the board. Her assertion is that when it comes to the education of at-risk youth, the PMF is biased against this population. She stated that the PCSB has its own report demonstrating this to be the case. City Arts and Prep has a student population that Ms. Ingram reported is approximately 98 percent black and includes 65 percent of kids that are economically disadvantaged. 75 percent of its students come to this Ward 5 school from Wards 7 and 8.

Ms. Ingram went on to explain that when the PMF is recalculated to account for the socio-economic factors of its student body it exceeds the 50 percent mark. Perhaps the most effective part of her presentation was in regard to the treatment of this school by the board in comparison to Harmony PCS. She explained that just last week Harmony, which like City Prep is ranked as Tier 2, was given the green light to continue operating after five years with a PMF total of 45 points. By the PCSB’s own calculation, she continued, City Prep’s results are higher but in this instance the board is talking about shuttering its doors. She also mentioned that City Prep has a student wait-list of about 200 students, while Harmony’s is one child.

I could go on and on regarding the effectiveness of the points made by the Marcus Firm attorney. In addition, I would be remiss if I failed to mention one particularly interesting comment by the school’s board chair. Mr. Daniels related that he is fairly new to this role and that when he first assumed his position at the school he met with Mr. Pearson, the PCSB executive director. This was before the latest PARCC scores were released that determine much of the PMF’s final calculation. At this session, Mr. Daniels stated that Mr. Pearson stated that his goal was to close City Arts and Prep.

The clarity and strength of the school’s remarks seemed to stun the members of the PCSB. While they asked questions of the witnesses it did not appear to me to be the same level of inquiry that I have seen at other forums of this type. At the end of this portion of the meeting, Saba Bireda, the board’s vice chair, observed that there are 11 D.C. charters that have higher proportions of their population of at-risk pupils than City Arts that in 2018 scored in the Tier 1 range of the PMF. She remarked that last year this number was 17, and she added that she is uncomfortable saying that this population cannot reach this level. Perhaps this was a hint of what the decision will be regarding this school at the December meeting.

D.C. charter board is eradicating limits on accountability

I know that the DC Public Charter School Board, operating under the School Reform Act, has the power to close charters based upon poor academic performance, financial irregularities, a failure to meet its goals, and a violation of applicable laws. However, the mandates that it has been imposing on charters go way beyond a reasonable definition of oversight.  For examples, let’s just consider some of the demands placed on schools at last Monday night’s monthly meeting.  I want you to know that these are the actual conditions that the specified charters need to meet in order to continue to operate.

Imposed on Democracy Prep PCS during its five-year review:

“The school must achieve a PMF score of at least 40 for SY 2018-19 on a modified one-year PMF, with all measures using only SY 2018-19 outcomes and no re-enrollment rate, as calculated by DC PCSB, OR must improve by at least 15 points on the standard PK8 PMF between SY 2017-18 and 2018-19. If the school fails to meet at least one of these targets, it will close at the end of SY 2019-20.”

Imposed on Harmony PCS during its five-year review:

Harmony DC PCS must decrease its enrollment ceiling from 480 students to a maximum of 250 students, and submit a five-year budget to describe how the school will remain economically viable with such enrollment; and Given the cost of the school’s turnaround and the reliance on philanthropic funds that largely come from a single source to pay for this turnaround, Harmony DC PCS must provide evidence that at least $500K per year has been secured for SY 2018-19 and SY 2019-20.”

Imposed on LEARN PCS during its application process to open a new school:

“By May 15, 2019, the school will develop and submit a plan to engage non-military connected families in DC (especially Ward 8). The plan will include i. reliable, recent, and comprehensive data demonstrating that there will be sufficient demand among non-military families to sustain the school, and ii. a description of recruiting strategies that have been successful either in DC or other jurisdictions with competitive charter markets serving a similar target population.”

“Enrollment—due to the mixed historical performance of LEARN schools, and lower quality and lack of demand at LEARN 10, enrollment at LEARN DC will be limited to the current enrollment numbers of LEARN 10. . .”

“The school’s opening year may have a maximum enrollment of 180. Enrollment each year may grow by 45 students to a maximum enrollment of 495 students.”

“By December 14, 2018, the school will sign an agreement committing that the following condition will be included in the school’s charter: If the performance on the PMF at the five-year review is below and average of 40%, the school agrees to relinquish its charter. If the school earns a Tier 3 in any three of five years, the school will relinquish its charter.”

And here is my personal favorite:

“The LEARN Network will open no additional schools until at least one year after the opening of LEARN DC.”

The PCSB is now dictating what this charter management organization can and cannot do on a national level in order to open in D.C.  If I was running this school, and if I wholeheartedly believe in school choice for those much less fortunate than myself, and if a vital part of my sworn mission is to provide a high quality education for the offspring of men and women who sacrifice their lives for the protection of this country, I would tell the board “no.”  Actually I would tell them “hell no.”

However, this is what our local movement has become.  Autonomy and accountability.  But the autonomy part is disappearing.

 

 

 

 

D.C. charter board lives up to reputation as tough authorizer

The headline for a story about the DC Public Charter School Board’s November monthly meeting is obvious to anyone watching the session: LEARN PCS was approved by a unanimous vote to open on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB). But nothing about last night’s proceedings was this simple and so it goes with LEARN. While the new charter was given the green light, it is facing an extremely long list of conditions imposed by the PCSB that covers everything from engagement of Ward 8 families to changes to the governance structure of its board. The requirements also include the following statement regarding its future academic performance:

“By December 14, 2018, the school will sign an agreement committing that the following condition will be included in the school’s charter: If the performance on the PMF at the five-year review is below an average of 40%, the school agrees to relinquish its charter. If the school earns a Tier 3 in any three of five years, the school will relinquish its charter.”

In addition, the granting of a local campus has national implications for this charter management organization:

“Enrollment—due to the mixed historical performance of LEARN schools, and lower quality and lack of demand at LEARN 10, enrollment at LEARN DC will be limited to the current enrollment numbers of LEARN 10 and the LEARN Network will not open additional schools prior to opening LEARN.”

In other words by agreeing to come to JBAB, LEARN cannot open another site anywhere across the United States before the 2020-to-2021 school year. I think this requirement could be the definition of strict.

It was easy to anticipate a challenging evening for LEARN. The staff’s report regarding the charter’s application was published ahead of time and it included mixed findings regarding meeting the board’s standards. The representatives from the charter must have been concerned because no one from the school testified during the open comment period in favor of opening at the military complex.

The same approach was applied to Harmony PCS, a Texas charter school that faced its five-year review. While the school was able to land in the Tier 2 Performance Management rankings in 2018, its prior two scores on this report card had it in the lowest category. Therefore, the charter board applied an equaling grueling set of goals for this school to meet in order to continue teaching kids.

The most interesting discussion revolved around Democracy Prep PCS. After being a PMF Tier 2 school during the 2015-to-2016 term, it now finds itself with the lowest score on this measure of any local charter at 21.0 percent. Its board wanted to jettison its Brooklyn, N.Y. – based centralized office and have a high performing D.C. charter take its place. While Rocketship PCS did respond to a request for proposal, instead the school went with the TenSquare Consulting Group to perform a turnaround. It would be an understatement to say that the board was not too sure that this was the right decision. While it would be highly unheard of to have the PCSB close a school at the five-year mark, that is exactly what may happen. The members split three to three as to whether to allow the charter to continue with conditions and so the matter will be taken up again at the December meeting.

The bright side of night came from a proposal from Lee Montessori PCS to replicate in Ward 7 and 8. Yes, I did use the work replicate. The four-year old Tier 1 institution desperately wants to increase the proportion of low-income students that it serves. It now teaches about 177 children in grades pre-Kindergarten through five, eventually going to sixth, and it would mirror this offering at a second location. It currently has a wait list of over 750 pupils. The new school would enroll 400 kids and open in the 2019-to-2020 term. The board will make the decision next month and at that time the charter will have something to celebrate.

D.C. POST parents conduct media campaign ahead of charter board vote to approve LEARN PCS

Next Monday evening, the DC Public Charter School Board will vote on whether to allow LEARN Charter School Network, a Chicago charter management organization, to open a school at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.  In anticipation of the decision, the POST, the Ward 8 Parent Operator Selection Team, has conducted a social media campaign to have their selection of a charter operator approved.   Its members write:

“The entire process we participated in was designed to put parents in charge. So we were especially pleased to find that not only did LEARN present well, they listened to us and asked us some great questions. We wanted a school operator that would listen to the needs of the parents and children and our two communities—not just while we are evaluating them, but during the planning and after they open. We feel that LEARN will do that.”

I’ve documented in the past the highly detailed and lengthy work the parents involved in the process to select a school conducted, a project that was facilitated by Irene Holtzman, the executive director of FOCUS, and Maya Martin, executive director of PAVE who would become the new school’s board chair.  I especially enjoyed reading the case study of the POST’s effort.  The team has been highly engaged, evidenced by the fact that my skeptical comments about the charter’s academic results were met by two different uncoordinated communications to me by prominent members of the school choice community.  These resulted in my participation on a conference call with a couple of the leaders of LEARN.

It’s an interesting concept to have parents make the decision about the selection of a school.  The argument reminds me of the position I’ve heard many times asserted by Jeanne Allen, the founder and chief executive officer of The Center for Education Reform.  She consistently states that whether a charter school is permitted to operate should be determined by its popularity with parents and students, and not by an authorizer that has established accountability standards, particularly around standardized test scores.  She believes that charters should develop their own goals and it is the successful meeting of these objectives that should be judged by the body that oversees these schools.

This is not how the movement has operated here in the nation’s capital.  Many charters have been closed, the most recent being Excel Academy PCS, despite the strong belief by parents that this is where they want to send their children.  The DC PCSB has insisted that it knows best which schools should be open and closed, and it has made these decisions under its authority through the School Reform Act, which have revolved around academic and financial results.

It will be fascinating to see whether this tradition continues next week.

 

D.C. charter school lawsuit continues; a second one should be filed

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported last week that the ruling issued almost exactly a year ago by a federal judge against the FOCUS coordinated charter school funding inequity lawsuit brought by Washington Latin PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, has been appealed.  A federal judge heard oral arguments on November 5th that mostly revolved around whether it is appropriate that the matter be heard in federal court.  The original legal action by the plaintiffs claimed that charter schools receive less money in revenue from the city compared to the regular schools, a figure that has totaled $770 million from 2008 to 2015, and equates to $1,600 to $2,600 per pupil every year.

The supplemental payments to DCPS have come mostly in the form of services the regular schools receive for free that charters do not, such as building maintenance and legal assistance.

The most significant information coming out of Ms. Stein’s story is that legal representation for the charter schools is now being provided by an attorney from WilmerHale, a law firm handling the case on a pro bono basis.  The attorney replaces Stephen Marcus, who was intimately involved in this lawsuit even before it was brought before the court four years ago.

The charter school argument is based upon the School Reform Act.  Passed by Congress and incorporated into local law by the D.C. Council, it states that all financial support for public schools, both charter and traditional, must come through the Uniform Per Student funding formula.  This means that the additional no-charge benefits that DCPS has been receiving over the past twenty years are illegal.

The current situation is unjust and is harming charter schools’ ability to care for the almost 44,000 children sitting it its classrooms.

It is, in fact, difficult to find a more straightforward public policy.  However, you are in luck.  Because on this dark and cold November morning I have found one more, a legal rule that I consider practically a tie in clarity with the dictate on the manner in which our schools receive their operating cash.  Ready, here it is:

All excess DCPS buildings will be offered to charter schools on a right of first offer basis.

As I pointed out yesterday, it is estimated that there is approximately one million square feet of vacant or underutilized DCPS facility space to which charters cannot get access.  An empty site has not been turned over to charters for about four years.  This is severely negatively impacting their ability to expand and replicate.  Now I will ask you a really simple question.  It is early so I don’t want to make it too difficult.  If charters can sue over illegal funding should not the sector also mount a court battle over access to physical structures?

I’ll await your response.